Category Archives: Anne Morrow Lindbergh

All Vulnerability and Sweetness

41“Around the house with a lantern to look at the sleeping children and put on an extra cover. The miser’s hour for a mother—she looks at her gold and gloats over it!”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, WAR WITHIN AND WITHOUT, p. 223

 

 

I love this image of Anne. It was 1941 and Charles was away on a trip. She was alone with their three young children in their small rented cottage on Martha’s Vineyard. I can imagine her creeping through the house late at night on her way to bed after she’s written in her diary. She pulls the edges of a sweater draped over her shoulders closer to her throat against the evening’s chill with one hand while she holds a lantern with the other. The children will need extra cover.

As she spreads an extra blanket over each one she pauses to look at the face of each sleeping child: Jon. Land. Anne.

What is it about a sleeping child? There is nothing like it to a parent. For one thing, no matter what he or she was like during the day—he could have been the reincarnation of Dennis the Menace—all melts away and is forgotten. The sight of a child’s face in slumber will do that. It is all vulnerability and sweetness.

My own son is eleven now and nearly as tall as I am. I am aware every day of how quickly he is growing up. But when I steal into his room for a last look at night and see his face resting in profile on his pillow, I am struck by how young he really is. Void of expression his features soften and remind me of the little face of not so long ago, emanating trust and innocence—and I realize that despite his rapid changes he has not been on this planet for very long at all.

Gazing at the face of my sleeping child is like time freezing for just a little bit. I get to behold, for a moment, the child he has been in the person he is becoming. Perhaps this is why Anne likens the experience to a miser gloating over his gold. Having lost a child, she knows the transitory nature of life.

Part of each of us, down deep, wishes we could hold onto our children and keep them young forever. We want to keep them close and safe. But we also know, down deep, that they will only be in our care for a time. They are a gift to us only temporarily. We treasure them, we let our hearts fill at the sight of them, we do all we can to enable them to blossom and grow. And then we open our hands, and—when they are ready—we let them go.

Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, by Kim Jocelyn Dickson

The Pilot, the Poet, and their Passion

ferr600span“The feeling of exultant joy that there is anyone like that in the world…Clouds and stars and birds–I must have been walking with my head down looking at puddles for twenty years.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, BRING ME A UNICORN, p. 99

 

Anne was a twenty-one year old senior at Smith when she had an encounter that would change her life. It was December of 1927 and the Morrow family was spending the Christmas holidays together in Mexico City, where Anne’s father served as U.S. ambassador. It had been just seven months since Charles Lindbergh made his historic solo flight that rocked the world. Now, at the invitation of Ambassador Morrow, and in the interest of strengthening relations between the United States and Mexico, Lindbergh was coming to spend the holidays with the Morrow family. And he was about to rock Anne’s world too.

Until this point, Anne’s world had included only the New England upper class–the well-to-do, highly educated, and intellectual—her parents’ people. Charles was different and he took her breath away. This shy “clear, direct, straight boy”[i] who said little but accomplished much, stood in sharp contrast to all the other men she’d known. Next to Charles—an independent, courageous, sincere, forthright man of action—all the articulate, well-read, sophisticated, pretentious suitors Anne had known paled. His directness, his economy of words, his lack of pretense, and his sheer masculine presence bowled Anne over.

In her world people read about and discussed things. In Charles Lindbergh’s world, people did them.

The attraction between Anne and Charles was instantaneous and mutual, but it would be several months before Charles called for a date. In the fall of 1928, he invited Anne to fly with him. Within a few months they were engaged, and in May of 1929 they married.

Despite their whirlwind courtship, Anne was racked with doubts, and she agonized over their relationship: “It is a dream and a mistake. We are utterly opposed.” [ii] She was introspective; he was a man of action. She was an incessant reader; he rarely cracked a book, his idea of good poetry was that of the lowbrow, sentimental Robert Service, and he didn’t even get the cartoons in The New Yorker magazine. She was Ivy League; he was a college dropout. She was a dreamer; he was practical.

Yet underneath it all there was a powerful attraction. As their daughter Reeve said years later, their marriage was inevitable.[iii]

Indeed it was. For what was at the heart of the attraction between Anne and Charles was a deep, unconscious connection: their emotional similarity.

Years later Anne described a conversation she and Charles had with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at a party in Paris before the war. The four compared notes on the isolation and indignation they suffered because of their fame: “…a pair of unicorns meeting another pair of unicorns.”[iv]

Anne’s self-identified image of the unicorn—an elusive magical creature—was one that would recur in Anne’s literary work. The volume of diaries and letters that contained her first meeting of Charles was entitled Bring Me a Unicorn. Her only published volume of poetry, The Unicorn, included a long poem called “The Unicorn in Captivity”, which was inspired by a tapestry from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the poem Anne described a hunted, fenced in, bound, and wounded creature who found his freedom internally—an image that resonated deeply with her.

The themes of captivity and freedom surfaced again and again in the Lindberghs’ lives. This appeared to be because of the relentless pressure of fame. Incessant publicity held them captive, rendering them unable to move freely. Flying and escaping to far corners of the world granted them the freedom they craved.

I believe that for Anne and Charles, though, the pull toward freedom and away from captivity stemmed from origins far deeper than the world of fame they inhabited as adults. Their identification with the wounded creature was rooted in the pain and “captivity” of emotional isolation they each experienced as children.

Charles’s parents were estranged during his childhood, but they never divorced. At a young age he was forced to assume adult responsibilities and was expected to grow up quickly. One senses that there was no one really there to take care of him. Living in a chronically painful situation, Charles learned early not to feel things. Action became his means of escape.

Anne had a family that appeared to offer every possible good thing to its children, but her childhood, too, was marked by emotional deprivation. She was expected to grow up to be just like her mother—a woman who was uncomfortable with her own feelings and who avoided them through nonstop social activity and philanthropy. Anne was not supported in becoming herself.

When Anne and Charles met that December in Mexico, each of them unconsciously recognized themselves in each other. A unicorn meeting another unicorn. A powerful attraction.

In her novel, The Names of the Mountains, Reeve Lindbergh told a fictionalized version of her aging mother’s gradual decline. Anne—through the character Alicia in the story—said marriage was “…both an escape from and a reflection of the marriage in which each partner was raised.”[v]

For Anne, marriage to Charles was certainly both. He offered an escape from the intellectualized, protective, and confined world of her parents. Charles offered adventure and a chance for her to shift from the life of the mind to the life of the body. Anne’s decision to marry Charles stretched her in ways she might never have known had she not taken the leap.

What she didn’t realize, though, was that she was marrying into the same emotional reality that she had grown up with. Life with Charles may have looked different externally, but emotionally, she would discover, he was every bit as detached as her own parents.

The mystery of attraction is really not so mysterious after all. More and more, I believe that we are attracted to people—romantically or otherwise—at this deeply unconscious level. There is something about the person we are attracted to, below the flow of words and actions, that—no matter how different from us they may appear—is familiar. That reminds us of what we already know.

Not only do we find relationships that replicate the emotional reality we knew growing up, we also manage to create circumstances that repeat it, too. Anne married a man who mirrored the emotional distance and exacting demands of her parents. She also found herself in circumstances, due to her celebrity, in which she had to struggle against feelings of isolation, misperceptions, and captivity–evoking a sense of reality not unlike that of a little girl whose identity and value is not perceived accurately by those around her.

As adults we recreate the hurts of childhood to get a second chance to work them out and be free of them. And we do all this without realizing it, of course. What is deepest and truest in us is wiser than our conscious self and longs for us to be healed.

But healing doesn’t come automatically, nor does it come easily.

We gain our second chance only when we have the courage to allow this deeper knowledge to come into the light. This requires the slow, painful work of choosing to understand ourselves and the reality of our history. Only then can the present circumstances—the marriage, the difficult situation—be apprehended in its proper perspective and be transformed.

Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, by Kim Jocelyn Dickson

[i] Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Bring Me a Unicorn (New York, Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich, 1971) p. 99.

[ii] Ibid. p. 224.

[iii] Reeve Lindbergh, interview in “ Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh” A&E’s Biography, April 2, 2000.

[iv] Anne Morrow Lindbergh, The Flower and the Nettle (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), p. 510.

[v] Reeve Lindbergh, The Names of the Mountains (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992) p. 101.

Trust Your Apathy

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“I am beginning to respect the apathetic days. Perhaps they are a necessary pause: better to give in to them than to fight them at your desk hopelessly; then you lose both the day and your self-respect. Treat them as physical phenomena–casually–and obey them.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, LOCKED ROOMS, OPEN DOORS, p. 276

 

I love this advice. It so goes against the unspoken rule in our culture to grit your teeth and slog on, no matter what.

Feeling tired, sad, or depressed? Get over it. Better yet, take Prozac. And then get over it. At all costs, keep busy, keep moving, keep achieving. Don’t slow down or you’ll never get where you want to be. And the guy behind you will overtake you and get ahead of you.

Who can deny we are an externally motivated culture, taught from early on to move away from the feelings that connect us to our spirituality and inner voice?

Anne struggled with apathy around writing her first book after the kidnapping and death of her son. Her family legacy and that of her husband, Charles, was to suppress pain through action. All of them dealt with difficult feelings by moving away from them. Her parents were wrapped up in public service, and Charles literally moved away from his own grief by taking to the air. Anne was encouraged from all sides to put the loss of her baby behind her by busying herself writing her book.

But she knew that was not the answer.

Anne’s lack of energy for writing, no doubt, was due to the loss of her child and her isolation in her grief. She couldn’t share her sadness with the people closest to her in any meaningful way, and so she worked her feelings out by writing in her diary and confiding in her closest friends.

During this period Anne learned that she had to pay attention to her inner rhythms. For her, learning to go with one’s internal energy flow was like sailing. You can’t force a boat to go further into the wind than it can without losing momentum and your bearings. The only thing to do is give it its head. It will swing and swing and suddenly catch the wind, bite into it and go. You may have to tack back to get on course, but ultimately you get there more quickly. For Anne, the road to writing her book was through her grief. She couldn’t step around it; she had to go through it.

I have often felt that if I lacked energy for doing something I needed or wanted to do that meant it would never be there. Whether it’s the energy for doing something as important to me as writing this book or something as trivial as trimming trees in my yard, any lull in motivation meant the energy would be gone forever; the thing would never happen. I have come to see that energy for any particular thing, like so much in life, simply ebbs and flows. There may be obvious reasons for it–as in one’s energy being tied up in grieving the loss of a loved one–or the reasons may be more mysterious. Maybe the time is just not right.

What is becoming clearer to me is that I can trust my internal inclinations. When I am impelled to do one thing and not another that may even appear to make more sense, I have learned to go with my impulse. When I do, I find, just as in Anne’s sailing metaphor, that while the path may be less direct, I get to my goal more quickly. And I avoid the wasted doldrums of guilt and self-chastisement and “I should be doing such and such.”

Recently I’d been sitting at my computer writing for four hours. I stopped for lunch and began to think about the things I needed to do in the afternoon: go to the bank, get the tires on the car rotated, exchange a scarf I needed for a wedding, stop at the grocery store. Yawn. I was exhausted from sitting and concentrating all morning and felt no desire to do all those things. Yet they needed to be done. I really wanted to get outside–it was a gorgeous, sunny eighty-degree day–and be in the water. And so I did. I went for a swim, dipped in the Jacuzzi, sunned for a while, and relaxed. Two hours later I was rested, showered, and able to do my errands easily. Had I pushed myself to do them first I would have felt tired, cranky, and put-upon. My little detour ended up being just the thing I needed to help me reach my goal.

A list of errands may be a small thing, but I find the principle holds true for the bigger things as well. When, like Anne, I “trust my apathy” and stop to consider what I really want and need in any moment, I hold life and life holds me much more graciously.

[Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh]

The Way Life Should Be

imagesYour summer place. Have you ever worried that you might not get back there?

“I am writing you in the desperate feeling that we will never get to North Haven. I have felt superstitious about it from the beginning because I have counted on it overmuch all summer long: the quiet and apartness and all of you, and the feeling of being completely alone and natural and oneself…”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: HOUR OF GOLD, HOUR OF LEAD, p. 72

Anne was a newly married bride of twenty-four when she wrote these words to her mother. After the wedding and honeymoon in May she and Charles had barely touched back down to earth. His involvement in the aviation industry beckoned him from all quarters of the country. It was an exciting time for Anne, joining him in these ventures. She was meeting new people, seeing parts of the country she’d never seen before, and adjusting to life with her new husband. But she missed her family and longed for something familiar and secure in the midst of her new transient life.

Since she was a young girl, Anne had vacationed with her family in the summer on the island of North Haven, just off the coast of Maine. Their large summer “cottage” overlooked Penobscot Bay with a view to the blue Camden Hills on the mainland. For Anne, North Haven offered a retreat, a chance to be with her family away from the usual rhythms of life. Whether North Haven delivered long, lazy summer days in the cool clear sunshine or cozy indoor hours by the fire as squalls swirled outside, the Morrow summer home was a refuge. Here, Anne’s parents were relieved from some of the pressures of their busy lives and the family was free to simply be.

This first summer of her marriage Anne feared she might not get there. For the first time she experienced the tug of the needs of her husband on one hand and the pull of her family on the other. It was a tension she would feel always. Becoming caught in what others close to her wanted from her, to the extent that she had difficulty claiming what she wanted for herself, was a familiar place.

In the midst of this dynamic, however, I’m sure that Anne herself longed to get back to North Haven that summer.

If you’ve ever been to North Haven you’d understand why.

When I lived on the East Coast I had a friend whose family owned two summer cottages on North Haven. My friend, Laurel, had grown up spending summers on the island, just as Anne had. One summer she invited me and a few other friends to go to North Haven for a long weekend. I was just discovering Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s books, so I already knew of the island and was thrilled for the opportunity to go.

It turned out to be beyond my ability to imagine. A sign posted along the highway just past the state line says: “Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be.” That captures perfectly the way I have come to feel about North Haven. Over the next several summers, the island would be a yearly vacation retreat for me and a group of friends from Princeton.

Regardless of the weather, North Haven was magical. Otherworldly. Whether cloudy and rainy and shrouded in mists of purple, blue, and gray, or bathed in sunshine and cool crystalline air, the deep green pines stood out against the wild rocky shore and beckoned you to come closer, go deeper. The scent of pine and sea filled your lungs and you felt more alive than ever.

Our trip was the same from year to year. The ferry delivered us into the arms of the harbor and gently let us go. We drove through fields of blue lupine and grazing cows to get to our cottage. The lilacs by the porch would still be in bloom. I’d cut some for the table that night. We’d unpack, stopping every couple of minutes to look out the bedroom window into the cove just yards from the front door. Across the cove, the sun would just be beginning to dip behind the Camden Hills in a spectacular display of reds, oranges, pinks, and magentas. We’d all stop what we were doing to rush out to the dock to watch. This became one of our rituals on the island.

We had others, and a sort of routine emerged. Since there were so few distractions on the island we’d make up our own. First were the lazy mornings. People would rise whenever they felt like it. Someone would make coffee, and there were usually a few people sitting on the porch drinking it, reading novels, and having leisurely conversations. Someone might cook a big breakfast, or we might fend for ourselves when hunger struck. Grape-Nuts and muffins were perfect. Once children came along, breakfasts became a bit more official. After breakfast, someone might take a walk or a bike ride. Or go sailing. Or row across the cove to the spit of rocks to dig mussels for dinner. Or sunbathe. The water in the cove was too cold to swim in, but Laurel took one quick dip every year. She’d been doing it since she was a little girl.

Lunch was a loose affair, too. A pot of homemade soup sat on the stove, ready whenever we were. Afterward there might be naps outside in the sun. Someone might make a trip to town to restock supplies at Waterman’s, the only general store on the island, or to pick up lobster, fresh from this morning’s haul, for dinner that night. We’d scatter alone or in couples or small groups to do whatever we felt like. But late afternoon brought a ritual nobody wanted to miss.

As the sun dipped lower and the air grew cooler, we pulled on our sweaters and took up our mallets. The lawn in front of the cottage that sloped to the edge of the cove became our croquet court. It was happy hour. Steve would roll out the old battered wooden wagon of some child long ago and set up the bar. Gin and tonics. Margaritas. Take your pick. Music rolled out over the lawn–James Taylor, maybe, or the soundtrack to “The Big Chill.” As a matter of fact, sometimes we felt we were living “The Big Chill.” We’d sip our drinks; we’d savor the sunset; we’d dance and sing along to the music; we’d have no mercy for each other on the court, sending each other’s croquet balls off into oblivion and evoking the ooga-booga charm of protection around our own (this involved making the sign of the cross over your croquet ball and chanting ‘ooga booga’) whenever threatened. We were silly and laughed at nothing and everything. Whoever was responsible for dinner that night would be inside preparing the lobster and it would be ready soon. Life was good.

Our days took on a lovely timeless rhythm. Our spirits adapted to our surroundings and we breathed in time with the wind and the tides and our most basic needs. Released from the pressures of our day-to-day existence, we felt more fully alive than ever. Our sense of life was heightened–perhaps because we had slowed down enough to appreciate it.

The special group of friends are scattered all across the country now. We had been in graduate school together, some of us worked at a summer camp together, some of us had been to college together. One of us has died, children have been born. We’ve all moved to new stages in our lives. But none of us will forget those days. Even in the midst of living them I think we all knew how extraordinary our days on North Haven were. We were young, on the threshold of the rest of our lives, and our playground was one of the loveliest places God ever made.

Mystical, enchanting, ruggedly beautiful, North Haven is a taste of what heaven might just be like. Or at the very least–the way life was intended to be. I can understand Anne’s worry that she might not get back there. But she did. And as she would recount later in Gift from the Sea, she managed to find “North Haven” for herself in other places too. Places where she could retreat to and, in letting go of the demands of daily life, tap into her inner springs once again.

[Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh]

The Hope of Spring in Her Spirit

th“Forsythia is pure joy. There is not an ounce, not a glimmer of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia. Pure, undiluted, untouched joy.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, BRING ME A UNICORN, p. 138

It’s been too many years since I’ve lived in a climate that supported forsythia. We don’t have them in Southern California. But I remember them in New Jersey, where they lined the highways in a blast of yellow in the spring, and I remember them before that, in Missouri where I grew up.

We had a forsythia bush in my backyard, down by the creek that flowed at the bottom of the property. As a child I didn’t try to learn the names of trees or bushes, but I absorbed many of them from hearing my parents talk. My mother always remarked about the forsythia when its yellow buds began to swell. “Oh, the forsythia’s almost out.” Or “Oh, the forsythia is out.” She would comment on the progress of the forsythia as she looked out the kitchen window while doing the dishes. I knew these simple statements meant something. She was on the lookout for spring. For some reason my parents never planted daffodils, so forsythia was the harbinger of spring at our house.

My mother must have loved forsythia. It meant that the long tedium of winter was over. She was a housewife with a husband and three children and a house to take care of, and one of her supreme joys was escaping it all to go shopping, or play bridge, or go to her garden club. Long cold winters and snow cramped her freedom. Spring also meant she could go back to hanging wash outside instead of in the basement, as she did when it was cold. She didn’t believe in using her dryer much.

I miss the miracle of spring. Living in a climate where flowers and trees bloom all year long is a lovely thing. But I miss the drama of the cycle of death and rebirth borne out in four seasons. Spring pushing up out of the bleak, harsh, dead of winter is hope epitomized. When you live in it, you feel indwelt by it somehow. After the long tedium of dull, cold winter you feel lighter, buoyed in optimism, warmed and reassured of renewal deep in the marrow of your bones.

One Easter Anne reflected that the signs of spring are the Resurrection made visible: a reminder that no matter what, there is love and beauty and goodness and spirit in the world.

Not an ounce…of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia… Yellow clouds of forsythia blossoms rest lightly on their slender branches, bursting in color against the grass beginning to green again, unaware of it own importance–what it means to a world dormant in gray.

(Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 2002, 2014, copyright Kim Jocelyn Dickson)

Love and the Stream of Compassion

Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s thoughts on love seem especially appropriate to be reminded of today.th

“Love is a force in you that enables you to give other things. It is the motivating power. It enables you to give strength and power and freedom and peace to another person…It is a power like money or steam or electricity. It is valueless unless you can give something else by means of it.”    

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, LOCKED ROOMS AND OPEN DOORS, p. 231

 

Anne’s thought on what love really is came on the heels of a stimulating conversation she had with Margot Loines, the woman who would later marry her brother. Even as a young woman Anne began to understand that love is not an entity that you can give: “…like an armful of flowers. And a lot of people give love like that–just dump it down on you, a useless strong-scented burden.” [i] Rather, it is a power, a flow that energizes you to give other things out of it.

I think this is profoundly true. More and more I see that love is not this thing that I possess, that I hand over like I would a Hallmark card. It is something I am inside of, that I give out of. Instead of “I give you my love,” it’s “All that I do toward you comes out of this force inside me.”

It reminds me of Anne’s metaphor for God as the stream of compassion. When I am “in the stream,” I love. All that I am, all that I do comes out of this place that flows through me. When I live out of this place, I can be a channel for love to flow through.

To be in the stream of compassion–to love–begins with me. I have to be present to myself, honest with myself, and compassionate and merciful to myself to open the door. And then I am free to love. The presence, honesty, and compassion that I give myself, I can give to another. It enables me to really see another person, empower them to be themselves, and to want the best for them. It doesn’t feel hard to do this; it’s not a burden or a sacrifice. It feels natural, as if it comes out of a flow inside me. It is a power, like money or steam or electricity. It’s not sentimental and it’s not always pretty. But it wants good and power and strength for the other.

I’ve experienced the difference between what it’s like to live out of this place and not live out of this place most dramatically in my teaching life. I’ve taught elementary school students off and on for many years. It is one of the hardest jobs you can imagine. If you’ve ever planned and carried off a children’s birthday party, think about doing that five days a week for six hours a day–only the activities you plan have to be meaningful and educational, keep the students involved, and get them ready for life. Not only that, children bring their emotional lives into the classroom and generally sit them right out there on their desks. Hel-lo! Here I am. They don’t have the ability to hide their emotional lives as adults do, so you’re dealing with that as well. It’s exhausting.

I used to experience the responsibility of all this as crushing. I felt the weight of all of it–it felt like it was up to me to carry and solve all the problems and make everyone and everything okay.

It doesn’t feel that way anymore.

As I get more in touch with myself and my inner life, my ability to discern what I am responsible for becomes clearer. I can’t solve everyone’s problems and fix everyone. I don’t have that kind of power. No one does. Letting go of unrealistic expectations of myself frees good will to flow unencumbered. As I’ve grown to be more compassionate toward myself, I become naturally more compassionate toward others. It doesn’t require effort. It just happens.

I’ve noticed a subtle yet noticeable difference in the way I teach. I’m better able to connect with my students when I’m connected with myself. I’m freer to share my real feelings with them. If I’m proud of them or pleased with them, I let them know. If they annoy me or make me angry, I let them know that, too. There’s an honesty and good will that flows between us and I know it’s because I’m more aware of myself than I’ve ever been. At the end of the year I’m always amazed and touched by the kinds of cards and notes they write me. They’re full of love toward me and gratitude for all they’ve learned–and it’s because they have felt loved and respected by me. The stream of compassion has flowed through our classroom. It hasn’t been something I’ve had to reach for or will to happen. It’s felt organic.

And so I find Anne’s ideas about love and the stream of compassion to be true. When we are in touch with ourselves and merciful to ourselves, we open ourselves to dwelling in a flow of energy that is greater than we are. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is more than a commandment; it’s really the only way that can even happen.

[i] Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Locked Rooms and Open Doors (New York, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1974) p. 231.

(Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 2002, 2014, copyright Kim Jocelyn Dickson)

Growth Underground

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(Excerpt from Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 2002, 2014, copyright Kim Jocelyn Dickson)

 

“She said too what I have learned lately, that when one is ‘vegetating’ one is growing.”    Anne Morrow Lindbergh, LOCKED ROOMS AND OPEN DOORS, p. 374

Anne was visiting with an old family friend, Mrs. Neilson, the wife of William Allan Neilson, the president of Smith College. They discussed marriage, love, the importance of not separating the body and the spirit, having passion for work, and a German poet–Rainer Maria Rilke. It was a rich conversation for Anne who gleaned wisdom from Mrs. Neilson both in what she said and what she didn’t say.

And she confirmed Anne’s growing sense that even when she felt herself to be in a fallow period, she was still growing.

The past year had been difficult. The highly publicized trial of the man accused of kidnapping and murdering her child and the death of her sister, Elisabeth, rekindled Anne’s grief. She struggled to be hopeful about the future and to move forward. She was ready to begin her second book but found it hard to settle in to work.

But she had a feeling that even though she seemed to be in a state of dormancy, below the surface her creativity and energy simmered. She was learning, and in due time this would be apparent.

She was right. Not long after Anne’s conversation with Mrs. Neilson, she and Charles and their three-year-old son Jon moved to England. There she found relief from many pressures and painful reminders and settled in to a life of peace that enabled her to write her next book Listen! the Wind. It proved to be a richer, more complex book than her first. She had clearly grown.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s work became increasingly important to Anne, both validating and shaping her understanding of her life and herself as an artist. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke wrote in 1903 what Anne came to know for herself:

Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born; this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.[i]

Anne came to see that she could trust whatever stage she was in. That even during times when she didn’t feel herself to be flourishing and wasn’t outwardly productive, below the surface, deep in her unconscious, life was brewing.

I know this too. When I was a seminary student I discovered Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s work and became impassioned by it. I knew then that I wanted to write about her someday. I was far from ready to do it, but a deep desire was born then and continued to grow. Now, after a gestation period of nearly twenty years, I am writing a book I couldn’t have conceived much less written then.

As much as we’d like to, we can’t put our dreams on a schedule. “In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing.”[ii] Did it ever seem like I might never write my book? Many times. The curves that life throws you often seem like obstacles between you and what you desire. But the reality is they are opportunities to take you further into yourself, into that deeper place Rilke speaks of that is the genesis for all our creativity and passion. Like the tree ripening in the spring, he says, we can stand confidently in the storms, unafraid that summer may not come afterward. Summer does come.

If we pay attention to what’s happening in our inner lives and trust the wisdom that comes from there, fruit that we can see and touch will appear.

 

[i] Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to A Young Poet, trans. by Stephen Mitchell (New York: Random House, 1984) p. 23-24.

[ii] Ibid.